The happy isles

A warm wel­come from the lo­cals in Fiji

Paradise - - In Paradise | Contents - Air Niugini flies from Port Moresby to Nadi, Fiji, three times weekly. See airni­ug­

In The Art of Hap­pi­ness, the Dalai Lama con­nects the wis­dom of the east with de­sires of the west. He says: “I be­lieve that the very pur­pose of our life is to seek hap­pi­ness … I think the very mo­tion of our life is to­wards hap­pi­ness.”

Fiji seems to have taken a page from the Dalai Lama’s book and cor­nered the hap­pi­ness mar­ket. In­deed, the ap­par­ent hap­pi­ness of Fi­jians is one of the at­trac­tions that lured al­most 800,000 hol­i­day­mak­ers to Fiji’s sun-kissed shores last year.

In the western ar­chi­pel­ago of the Ya­sawa Is­lands, the 20 or so vol­canic is­lands are blessed with stretches of white-sand beaches lined with co­conut palms. In east­ern Fiji, Tave­uni Is­land, oth­er­wise known as the Gar­den Is­land, is a peren­nial favourite with na­ture lovers with sub­stan­tial an­nual rain­fall en­sur­ing that Tave­uni is green and lush year round.

Though most ar­rive in the Ya­sawas in boats that ferry pas­sen­gers through­out the Ma­manuca and Ya­sawa Is­land groups, fly­ing to the Ya­sawas at low al­ti­tude is a real treat.

A turquoise mo­saic of coral reef­strewn South Pa­cific mag­nif­i­cence stretches be­low me.

Our small air­craft flies low, be­fore swoop­ing down onto the grass airstrip on Ya­sawa Is­land.

At Ya­sawa Is­land Re­sort, har­mo­nious Fi­jian voices ring out as a scented flo­ral lei is draped around my neck. Tak­ing in the dreamy view of sand, sea and sky through the open-sided lobby, it feels like I’ve been wel­comed home. Set­tling eas­ily into is­land life, we start our days with long leisurely walks along the beach where few foot­prints dis­turb the serenity.

This is the Fiji that many re­turn vis­i­tors know and love. In­deed, a life­long love af­fair with the is­land ar­chi­pel­ago has lured me to its sun-drenched shores yet again. Few des­ti­na­tions seem to prom­ise as much hap­pi­ness as Fiji does. Ad­mit­tedly her drop-dead gorgeous land and seascapes hold much al­lure, but Fiji’s real charm has more to do with the warmth of her peo­ple and their seem­ingly in­grained hap­pi­ness.

We board a boat to visit the Blue La­goon made fa­mous by Brooke Shields and Christo­pher Atkins in the 1980 movie of the same name. At Sawa-i-Lau Cave, a grotto carved from lime­stone, we float around in a cool pool of silken wa­ter, so deep it’s al­most black. For the brave, there’s a sec­ond smaller cave that re­quires plac­ing an amount of trust in a lo­cal guide who leads the faith­ful un­der­wa­ter through a nar­row tun­nel be­fore pop­ping up in the smaller cave. I can’t bring my­self to do it and am con­tent to splash around in the main cave.

Out east, on Tave­uni Is­land, it’s just as laid back but we do ramp-up the ac­tiv­ity level a notch. Be­tween ex­quis­ite meals and sun­down­ers served in one of five in­ti­mately ro­man­tic din­ing lo­ca­tions spread around the Beach Villa at Tave­uni Palms Re­sort, there’s lots to do.

Bouma Na­tional Her­itage Park oc­cu­pies much of Tave­uni’s cen­tral high­lands and east coast. Thanks to a trop­i­cal cli­mate, lush­ness abounds. Ba­nana and pa­paya trees are heavy with fruit in var­i­ous stages of ripeness, scar­let flow­ers bloom from hi­bis­cus bushes and gin­ger plants, frangi­pani petals lit­ter the ground, their fra­grance waft­ing on the trade wind breeze.

We slide down a nat­u­ral rock slide worn smooth by cen­turies of rush­ing wa­ter, plop­ping un­gra­ciously into a boul­der-strewn pool.

Guide Pita takes us by boat along the east coast where we stop be­neath wa­ter­falls that cas­cade into the sea. He tells us that in days gone by Euro­pean sail­ing ships used to tie up their ten­ders be­neath the falls to re­sup­ply their wa­ter pro­vi­sions.

Hik­ing to an­other wa­ter­fall, guide Si­mone’s ea­gle eyes spot the vi­brant colour of the rare orange

Set­tling eas­ily into is­land life, our days start with long leisurely walks along the beach where few foot­prints dis­turb the serenity.

dove. Con­trast­ing starkly against the tree it’s perched in, we’re for­tu­nate enough to zero in on it through the binoc­u­lars be­fore it takes flight.

Nearby, the ru­ins of a fort re­main as a re­minder of the bat­tles Tave­uni Is­lan­ders fought against in­vad­ing Ton­gans. A well-known bat­tle, fought in ca­noes off the beach near Wairiki, was re­cently com­mem­o­rated, mark­ing200 years since the Ton­gans were de­feated. Leg­end has it that this vic­tory was cel­e­brated at the time by the vic­tors cook­ing the van­quished and eat­ing them. It was around this time that Euro­pean and Amer­i­can mis­sion­ar­ies sought to stamp out bar­baric prac­tices, in­clud­ing can­ni­bal­ism that was rife across Fiji.

These days, Fi­jians are far more likely to kill with kind­ness.

Foot­prints in the sand ... a lonely beach at sun­set in the Ya­sawa Is­lands (far left); Tave­uni Palms Re­sort (left); the site of Blue La­goon (above); food and ac­com­mo­da­tion at Ya­sawa Re­sort (be­low).

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